Sister Rita McQueeney, CSC
(Sister M. St. Hugh)
January 4, 1921 – June 13, 2022
We share news of the death of Sister Rita McQueeney, CSC, who died at 7:55 a.m. on June 13, 2022, in Saint Mary’s Convent, Notre Dame, Indiana. Sister Rita entered the Congregation from Washington, D.C., on July 30, 1939. Her initial profession of vows took place on February 2, 1942.
Please join us in prayer for Sister as we renew our faith in the resurrected Jesus and strengthen our hope that all the departed will be raised to eternal life.
Rita Louise McQueeney was born in Washington, D.C., on January 4, 1921, the ninth of eleven children born of the union of Hugh Francis McQueeney and Mary Elizabeth (Auth) McQueeney. Hugh McQueeney was a steam engineer when Rita was born. He eventually rose to the position of superintendent of janitors for the District of Columbia Public Schools and managed a gasoline station on the side. Mary McQueeney was a homemaker until her husband’s death in 1932 when she took over management of the gasoline station, opened a fruit stand on the small farm where they lived, and took in boarders to sustain the family during the midst of the Great Depression. The local pastor, in recommending Rita for the convent at age 18, attested to her family being led “by a wise and attentive mother.” Rita exemplified her parents’ faith, devotion and stamina, which grounded her since childhood.
Rita McQueeney graduated from St. Mary’s elementary school, where she was taught by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, then enrolled at St. Cecilia’s Academy in Washington, D.C., staffed by Holy Cross. She wrote of her high school days, “I fell in love with the Holy Cross sisters immediately.” She graduated from St. Cecilia’s in 1939 and entered the Sisters of the Holy Cross that summer. Her first cousin, Sister Helen Marie (Helen Rose Auth), had entered the Congregation the year before and was in the novitiate at Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, Indiana. Sister Helen Marie died in 2005. Upon reception of the holy habit on February 2, 1940, Rita McQueeney became Sister Mary St. Hugh. It is not likely that she asked for the name, though her superiors probably considered her new religious name as one honoring both parents, Mary and Hugh. In 1968, Sister received permission to return to her baptismal name, now remembered as Sister Rita McQueeney.
In February 1941, Sister began her ministry as a teacher of primary and junior high students at schools located in Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, Indiana, California and the District of Columbia. She loved teaching and was a beloved teacher, having been prepared with a bachelor’s degree from Dunbarton College, Washington, D.C., in 1962, and a master’s from University of Dayton, Ohio, in 1971. In 1969, after 10 years at St. Thomas the Apostle School in Washington, D.C., Sister was transferred to St. Pius School in Redwood City, California. How could this be? Parents prevailed upon the provincial superior to reconsider. Two pages of signatures on a petition did not dissuade Mother M. Loretto (Conway). Mother wrote the parents that it was Sister Rita who had requested the change! “Sister Rita wishes to spend some time in our schools in the West. Since her home is in the East, we can hope that she will soon return.”
Sister Rita did return to the East to teach three more years. In 1975, after 34 years of teaching, Sister expressed interest in becoming a hospital chaplain and received her professional training at Holy Cross Hospital, Silver Spring, Maryland, through the Hospice Home Care Department. Her supervisor described her as an industrious and attentive scholar whose strengths were concern for the common good and group unity. Sister Rita had a kind manner toward those in grief and pain and responded intuitively in crises and emergency situations. As she said, “I worked on all the floors, but the emergency room was my favorite.” She felt so at home at Holy Cross Hospital that she received permission to use funds from her family to commission a statue of Saint Joseph the Worker, in honor of her father, Hugh McQueeney. The statue was placed in a wooded garden area of Holy Cross Hospital in 1979 and comforts the sick to this day. Sister Rita served for 16 years at Holy Cross Hospital, from 1975 to 1991.
For a brief interlude of two years, Sister Rita volunteered to serve in rural Southern Maryland with two other Sisters of the Holy Cross. Sisters M. Michaeleen (Frieders) and Gladys Marie (Martin) had begun Mary’s Song, an outreach ministry to the economically poor and underserved populations needing basic human services. Sister Rita assisted for two years in the distribution of food and clothing and helped provide spiritual enrichment for the people.
Sister Rita wrote that “The highlight of my ministry was ministering to the sick and dying at Holy Cross Hospital.” And sure enough, when the need arose, she returned to Holy Cross Hospital. She served in a patient advocate role in the emergency room at Holy Cross Hospital for three more years and as information desk receptionist for another year.
Sister Rita retired to a full-time ministry of prayer at the end of 2003, residing at Saint Angela Hall, Kensington, Maryland. As many an elder has observed, while this time of life is called retirement, it could also be considered a time of refinement, cutting back on the human doing of life in order to contemplate the human being in life. The doing and the being could be seen in Sister Rita’s wonderful talent for cultivating plants. She could make any ragged plant come to life and be restored. She had a special way with a Christmas cactus and elegant Easter orchids. To observe her tender loving care of plants was itself a meditation on mutuality in love and healing. There was something reciprocal between the planter and the planted that made them both able to bloom. In June 2013, Sister Rita moved to Saint Mary’s Convent, Notre Dame, where she continued her ministry of prayer until she died there nine years later on June 13, 2022. The Master Gardener called Sister Rita home, where she now blooms as any rose in Eden.
Sister Rita was graced with 101 years of life. Since she entered the convent at the beginning of the Second World War, her cohort was called by historians the Greatest Generation. Sister also lived during the Second Vatican Council and 60 years after. Such marker events impacted the world, the Church and her life as a woman religious for 83 years. Winter is past. Flowers appear on the earth and the season of song has come (Song of Songs 2: 11-12).
We invite you to donate to the Ministry With the Poor Fund in Sister’s name.—Sister M. Adria (Connors), CSC